Chinese War Ships, Cutters Still Sailing Near Philippine Holdings in South China Sea

March 30, 2023 1:19 PM
Philippine Coast Guard Photo

China Coastguard ships and a People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) corvette continue to operate around Philippine holdings in the Spratly Islands along with Chinese-flagged civilian ships, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said Thursday.

Patrol vessel BRP Malapascua (MRRV-4403) conducted a Maritime Patrol (MARPAT) mission to the Kalayaan Island Group from March 16 to 21, during which a number of foreign vessels, including a People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) corvette were sighted in the area. The Kalayaan Island Group consists of the Philippines’ holdings in the disputed Spratly Islands, with the Philippines ownership of the nine features disputed by China, Taiwan and Vietnam.

At Sabina Shoal, Malapascua monitored the presence of at least 20 unidentified Chinese and Vietnamese vessels. An image released on the PCG’s social media page stated 20 China vessels were located at 1.56 nautical miles southeast of Sabina Shoal on March 16.

The PCG patrol ship also encountered two China Coast Guard ships, CCG 5304 and CCG 5305 near the shoal.

Multiple radio challenges were issued by the PCG vessel to the CCG ships but no response was received, and Rigid-Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIBs) were deployed to disperse the foreign flagged vessels in and around the shoal, according to the PCG.

Off Pag-Asa Island, internationally known as Thitu island, Malapascua encountered a PLAN Type 056 Jiangdao-class corvette with hull number 649 within the 12 nautical mile limit of Pag-Asa.

The hull number identified the PLAN corvette as CNS Guangyuan (649) – likely the same ship that has been loitering off Pag-Asa since March 4 and sighted again on March 9. In both cases the PLAN corvette was not identified by hull number. The PCG ship issued multiple radio challenges while the PLAN corvette responded with its own challenge, according to the release.

While patrolling Ayungin Shoal, also called Second Thomas Shoal internationally, Malapascua monitored the presence of China Coast Guard ship CCG 5201 and issued radio challenges to it. CCG 5201 proceeded to shadow the PCG ship at a distance of approximately 1,600 yards, and during the encounter at Ayungin Shoal CCG 5201 came as close as 1.2 nautical miles from the grounded Philippine Navy landing ship tank BRP Sierra Madre (LT-57). An image released of CCG 5201 shadowing Malapascua stated the CCG ship as being 2NM northeast of Ayungin Shoal on March 21.

The National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea received the post-operation report for the MARPAT mission of Malapascua, and the PCG is working in conjunction with the Western Command (WESCOM) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Area Task Force – West (ATF-WEST) to monitor and respond to the presence of foreign vessels in the West Philippine Sea (WPS), according to the release.

The PCG has been mounting a campaign of publicly disclosing the presence of Chinese ships around the Philippines holdings in the Spratlys, in addition to embarking Filipino and international journalists on its air patrols to draw attention to China’s activities there, which the Philippines see as a violation of its sovereignty.

China continues to assert is the Spratly Islands fall within its control.

“China has sovereignty over Nansha Islands (the Chinese name for the Spratlys) and its adjacent waters and jurisdiction over relevant waters. It is legitimate and lawful for Chinese vessels to operate in waters under China’s jurisdiction,” China Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Mao Ning said March 10.

Meanwhile, PLAN surface ships transited the Tsushima Strait to enter the Sea of Japan on Wednesday, according to a Thursday release by the Joint Staff Office (JSO) of Japan’s Ministry of Defense.

Destroyer CNS Qiqihar (121) was sighted traveling east in an area 240km west of the Goto Islands on Tuesday at 1 p.m., and an hour later, cruiser CNS Anshan (103) and replenishment ship CNS Taihu (889) were sighted sailing east together in an area 300km west of the Goto Islands.

On Wednesday, the PLAN ships made separate transits through the Tsushima Strait with Qiqihar transiting by itself while Anshan and Taihu transited together.

The release stated that Japan Maritime Self Defense Force fast attack craft JS Shirataka (PG-829) and minesweeper JS Toyoshima (MSC-685) along with JMSDF P-1 Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) of Fleet Air Wing 1 stationed at JMSDF Kanoya Air Base, Kyushu and Fleet Air Wing 4 based at Naval Air Facility Atsugi, Honshu shadowed the PLAN ships.

Dzirhan Mahadzir

Dzirhan Mahadzir

Dzirhan Mahadzir is a freelance defense journalist and analyst based in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia. Among the publications he has written for and currently writes for since 1998 includes Defence Review Asia, Jane’s Defence Weekly, Navy International, International Defence Review, Asian Defence Journal, Defence Helicopter, Asian Military Review and the Asia-Pacific Defence Reporter.

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